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“Can R-r-r-r-rhage come in?” Bitty stammered.

“Absolutely. Do you want the others?”

Anything to have this work.

“No, because I’m crying.” Bitty sniffled. “I’m not brave.…”

“Oh, yes, you are.” Mary blinked back more tears. “Sweetheart, you are the bravest person I know.”

There was a tradition in vampire culture whereby the males of the species were not a part of medical interventions for females—and there were times when Bitty’s modesty had been compromised out of necessity. Now, though? All bets were off.

Mary wasn’t even going to ask Havers for permission. They needed something else to help the girl finish this.

“I’ll get him,” Doc Jane volunteered.

Rhage came in and Mary couldn’t help it. The second she met his eyes, she choked up so badly, she couldn’t breathe. And typical of a bonded male, he went to her first, hugging her tight, whispering something in her ear the words of which did not register, the strong, steady tone of which meant everything.

And then he was all about the little girl, his face losing color as he looked down at Bitty, his hands shaking as he reached out and pulled her into a hug.

A lot of medical people rushed forward, and Mary tugged him back. “Her arms and leg need casts still. Be careful.”

Rhage laid the girl back down as if she were made of glass.

“I’m not brave,” Bitty moaned up at him.

“Yes, you are,” he said, brushing her hair back. “You’re so brave and I’m so proud of you and I love you very much.”

They talked for a spell, and then there was a pause.

As if sensing the time was now, Havers said gently, “Just one last one. And then you’re all finished.”

Rhage’s brows sank down low, and Mary knew without asking that her hellren’s fangs had descended and the protective part of him was considering ripping the doctor’s throat out. But that was instinct, not logic.

She stroked Rhage’s arm. “Shh, it’s okay. One more and this is over.”

“One more …” He rubbed his face. “We can do this.”

Rhage nodded at Havers, who was looking apprehensive. And then the medical staff stepped up to the table again.

Bitty’s pelvis was strapped down again and her opposite leg was likewise immobilized. What Havers had to do was grip the thigh and apply pressure until there was a snap. And then he had to pull at the knee until he visualized correct alignment through the skin—something that was relatively clear given how painfully thin and under-muscularized the girl was. An X-ray would be taken to ensure that all was as it needed to be and then the casts would be put on so that the bone regenerated and reconnected itself correctly.

The break and alignment was so primitive, so brutal, that in the midst of all the high-tech machinery and state-of-the-art everything it seemed below the modern standard of care. But there was an undeniable mechanical side to the body, and this was nuts-and-bolts stuff—and again, Mary had to give Marissa’s brother credit. He’d done this a number of times for his patients before, and he’d been quick, decisive, and gotten it right with each of Bitty’s limbs.

To give Havers room, Rhage went around to the other side, his tremendous height and girth like the Great Wall of China had suddenly taken up res right beside Bitty. Taking the girl’s hand, he had looked both stricken and strong.

“We can do this,” he said to both her and Mary. “We’re all going to get through this together and then we go home to movies and ice cream. Right? Before we know it, we’ll be out of here, we’ll be free, and we’re going to set this behind us.”

Mary nodded and so did Bitty.

“Do it,” Rhage ordered.

Havers moved the little hospital gown up, exposing a pair of knobby knees that were too big compared to the circumference of the calves and thighs.

Oh, God, as long as Mary lived, she was going to remember the sight of those blue-gloved hands gripping Bitty’s thigh, squeezing into her meager flesh and—

Bitty started to scream in pain.

And no more than a split second later, a brilliant light flashed through the exam room, as bright as an explosion.

At first, Mary thought the overhead fixtures had gone out, but then her brain made a horrible connection.

Ripping her eyes away from Havers, she looked at Rhage in horror. “No, not now!”

But it was too late.

The beast had been triggered.

NINE

Enough was enough, Elise thought as she finally descended to the first floor. After stewing in her cousin’s room for what felt like hours, she knew she was just putting off the inevitable.

If her father wouldn’t entertain a civil audience with her?

Then she was going to get uncivil. Because what was truly unacceptable to her, what she refused to live with for one moment longer, was this familial equivalent of a media blackout.

Besides, what was her father going to do? Turn into a great snarling beast or something?

It wasn’t a surprise to find his study door shut, and as she walked across the foyer, it was impossible not to have an attack of the couldn’t-possibly’s. She had never once interrupted him when he was working on the family investments—but as an image of her beautiful mother came to mind, Elise used it as a battering ram. Even as her upbringing tried to hold her back, she pictured her mahmen and what the female would have done in this situation.

Elise didn’t even knock.

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